La Based Kentwood Players Hit A Home Run With Drama

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

One of Southern California’s oldest, continuously running (sixth-three years) Community Theatres, the highly honored and respected Kentwood Players of Westchester, is performing John Patrick Shanley’s powerful and resonating drama “Doubt, A Parable”, intelligently and sensitively directed by Gail Bernardi.

It helps that the overall production is blessed (no pun intended) with a strong cast of performers who bring to life the characters in this excellent production concerning  uncertainty as to the actions of a parish priest and one of his students.  The burning question driving the story becomes: was there an issue of inappropriate behavior on the part of the parish priest or is it merely a feeling on the part of the school’s principal that the incident actually took place?

The story set in a Catholic grade school in 1964 New York City is the battleground between its Principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (a worldly and driven Joanna Churgin), of the Sisters of Charity and Father Brendan Flynn (an excellent Matt Landig), the young and popular parish Pastor of St, Nicholas Church.  The time frame is pre Vatican Two.  The “old guard and old boy network” is the rule of the day.  Nuns are required to follow the chain of command when making any inquiries, beyond their purview, regarding rules and regulations.  All actions and questions, religious and secular, are to go through the priests.  The Catholic Church has been a male dominated organization for 2000 years.

When a “he said, she said” fundamental issue arises such as in “Doubt, A Parable”, the writing and the crafting of the story rises to the forefront.  Shanley’s compelling piece, beautifully illustrates the many facets of his core story – uncertainty, conviction, and doubt.  His stand is not to convince one position over the other.  His thrust is to present the issue in a believable, compelling setting and let the audience make up their own minds.  The irony of the story, although set in 1964, doesn’t escape audiences of the twenty-first century.

Offering solid support in this outstanding Kentwood Players production is Heather Barnett as the young and inexperienced Sister James.  Barnett nicely captures the essence of youth and vulnerability in her role as the teacher of the 12 year-old student in question (an unseen Donald Muller), and in her reluctant and conflicted ally status to Sister Aloysius.

Jacquelin Schofield is just downright terrific as Mrs. Muller.  She strikes just the right note in her poignant defense and protection of her son in her scene with Churgin’s unwavering position concerning Father Flynn.  It’s great stuff and excellent theatre at its best.  The same goes for the powerful confrontations between Churgin and Landig in their scenes where the rigid rules governing male vs. female chain of command issues within the church are emotionally pushed to the limit.

The technical credits perfectly complement the vision director Bernardi brings to the production.  The set design and decorations by Michael Nozzi are visually pitch-perfect.  I especially liked the statuary, which not only lends verisimilitude to the setting, but allows the very talented actors the room and feel necessary for them to perform their magic.  John Beckwith enriches the total visual experience with an excellent mood- inducing lighting design, which allows the costume designs of Kathy Dershimer to be fully appreciated.

The Kentwood Players of Westchester have come up with a real winner in “Doubt, A Parable”.  It’s a pity there were not more people in the audience the night I attended.  This is a show worthy of theatre-loving people.  The production performs on Fridays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through August 18th.  The Westchester Playhouse is located at 8301 S. Hindry Ave, Los Angeles, 90045.  Tickets and reservation information may be obtained by calling the box office at 310-645-5156.

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